‘The difficult fourth blog’

I’ve attempted to write this particular post four times now. It seems to be like a band’s ‘difficult third album’ (or is it second?). It got started before I went to France nearly four weeks ago. Inspiration hit me while I was there but, I was too busy doing things for the house and didn’t get time to get my thoughts down, and then the other day I actually sat down and wrote a piece, but thought it was too naff to post. So here I am again, giving it another go.

Working on the house and getting it ready to live in has been slow in some ways; we want things to happen quicker, we want to be there now, living the life we’ve planned, but things take time, (a lesson I should’ve learnt by now) and we can’t – with the best will in the world – do all the work ourselves. The ‘other half’ has been amazing, piecing together central heating, plumbing water systems, constructing things in wood (and bamboo!), to name just a few of the many jobs he’s done, and there seem to be so many more for us to do in the future. There’s no way on earth I could have considered doing this without him, nor would I have wanted to; this is a joint venture, a proper partnership. But there are jobs we can’t do; for safety’s sake and the restrictions of time, rewiring a house is not something you can just throw together. And though I’m sure he could have learned, neither is plastering a skill you can just pick up in five minutes. So we do have to rely on other people. We have found a great electrician through my sister, and we appear to have found a plasterer (finally!) and maybe a plumber who can commission the heating, both in the same way.

People ask me whether I’m excited about the move still and when I take a moment and stand back, or tell people about it, I am, who wouldn’t be? A new life, in a new home, lovingly restored by us, in a different country where there are new experiences to be had and a new language to learn; a quiet and simple life, close to the countryside around us. But day-to-day, day in, day out, you lose that. My days are spent planning and organising (I know, no surprise there!) trying to ensure we have all the items we need for the new house, researching on the internet all things French, healthcare, taxation, checking prices, making sure the budget is squeezed and squeezed again, so we can make sure the priorities are covered. The house in the UK is in the process of having every visible surface cleaned and we’re packing and re-organising where we can. In the midst of all of that, the excitement gets lost somehow. Always busy, always something to do or think about and then there are disruptions, distractions, normal everyday life. That’s what this journey is really like daily.

But there are still good things to report. I’m hoping our new world will be more in tune with the environment and the seasons, and for those of you interested in the natural world, we have, along with the usual things you’d see in any British garden, seen of few things of note between us. On two occasions during my last visit I saw a red squirrel clambering down the tree trunks in our garden and investigating the lawn. I’ve had a report this week, while working on a bridge to connect the two halves of the garden over the usually empty rill, of a 3-foot snake slithering along it. Unfortunately, it had disappeared before the camera ‘phone could be found, but identifying snakes is probably something we’ll need to learn. We’ve spent warm lunches sat outside on our stone bench watching the lizards in the courtyard sunning themselves, and there have been various sightings of our feathered friends. Buzzards seem to be everywhere in this part of France, but twice one has been spotted on a tree in the back garden near the barn, redstarts are also about and one was on the bedroom windowsill early one morning, and one of the biggest highlights for me so far was when we first arrived in France, before we’d even bought the house, seeing migrating cranes passing overhead on their way to their summer breeding sites. I’m looking forward to seeing them on their return.

I hope to be able to illustrate these blog posts with photos not just of the house but of our surroundings too. For the moment I can share some from previous trips that I haven’t posted before.


The garden

The garden

Garden trees & the pig shed

A sunny day

A sunny day

Fingers crossed you will join us as our journey continues. My aim, once we are in France full-time, is to try to do one of these once a week. Only the gods know if I’ll actually manage it…….

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There’s something not quite right here

I think I’ve made a mistake somewhere; got the wrong title for the blog perhaps. Maybe I should re-name it? The Ordinary World of a Simple Girl not quite yet in France or, The Ordinary World of a Simple Girl’s Partner in France?

You see ‘the other half’ has been in France for the last 12 days working on the house. You know the kind of thing, hanging radiators, raising doors, plumbing in water systems, constructing partition walls? You don’t? That may be a blessing….. Anyway, being without him, though a sensible and logical decision – he works there; I sort and organise here – has been one of the most difficult things I’ve done in a long time. (And I feel like I’ve done a few recently.)

I realised that I would miss him of course, we’ve been together quite a while now and haven’t really been apart since we moved in, but I don’t think I realised quite how much I would miss him. The anticipation of him going wasn’t great and then when he was actually set to go I didn’t think I would actually stop hugging him, until he prised me, limpet like, off. But it’s while he’s been away that’s actually got to me properly.

For the first few days I couldn’t even look at his slippers without them setting me off! Avoiding going to bed is a strange one; so that you’re not reminded of the fact that he’s not there. But it’s the adaptations I’ve made, that just creep up on you, that are the most surprising. Part of me has gone back to an old life, a previous time when I lived alone. Back to walking the dog twice a day instead of once – apart from when my generous Dad comes and takes her out – eating meals on a tray watching the telly, doing everything really to look after a household alone, while still trying to progress our move to France and get the house ready to let. And I didn’t even blink, I just did it, got on with it, and it’s only really when you look back that you realise quite how much you’ve changed and adapted to the circumstances. That’s what’s surprising, what’s scary.

Being on my own in the house, also stirs old memories. Memories of a time when I lived alone because I’d been dumped and I’d lost myself; forgotten who I really was and who I hoped to be. A time of recovery and of healing myself and moving on. Thankfully I haven’t spent a lot of time where I’ve dwelt on that while he’s been away; I’ve just been missing his presence, talking, sharing the events of the day, making decisions about the future, that’s what’s really been missing.

There is one thing that I’m proud of since I’ve been on my own. I’ve rediscovered my ability to cook (normally the other half does it all – luck me! – catering background and a natural ability). Now I’m not talking anything fancy. I’ve not been whipping up any Jamie Oliver recipes or anything, but I remember the last time I was like this I practically lived off microwave meals. (Now how many of you who live or lived alone cook properly – fresh veg. meat, gravy, or pans, ovens, mixing things? Be honest! I only know one so far.) This time around I’ve actually cooked pasta from scratch, boiled potatoes and cooked meat and cabbage, (not all for the same meal I hasten to add!) and – and this is the surprising bit – I’ve enjoyed it! I’ve not done it every night or anything, there has been a frozen pizza in there, but I’m pleased with myself that I’ve done it, bothered and enjoyed it. A sense of achievement is always something to be positive about.

But enough is enough! I’m not doing this ‘on my own’ bit any more! (Or not for a while any way.) I’ve made a decision. I’m off! It’s all booked – the automobile, train & plane! – and I’m on my way over to France. I won’t just be talking to the dog anymore, there’ll be another human being to mutter to and grunt at. And at the end of the day it’s his birthday and we can’t have him alone on his birthday can we? So ‘au revoir’, or should that be ‘a bientôt’?! I’ll be back in less than a week – provided the truck gets us home all right…..

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A day off….

It’s been a funny kind of day. I woke this morning from another dream of being chased. Apparently I’m trying to escape from stress…..

Today was the first day in seven and a half years where I became officially unemployed and though we have all these plans in place for a future in France, it has still been an emotional day. Even though I knew this day was coming several months ago, I am still experiencing a sense of loss and rejection and I find this sad and slightly upsetting. I don’t want to be a ‘woe is me’ kind of person; I’m generally not I think.

So to ease my unrest I appear to have taken an unplanned ‘day off’. I’ve watched people achieve great success and attain their goals, with the support of thousands, if not millions of others, all urging them on, to reach their peak and strive for excellence. This in itself has been inspiring and emotional, a release if you will.

I’ve surfed the net and read about others pursuing their lives in the way they see fit, in balance and in peace; ready to take advice if requested and teach through example by just being.

And during this ‘day off’ I’ve come to realise that this day, this funny, sad, emotional, ordinary day, is just the start. It’s just the next step, at the beginning of another personal journey. Moving forwards, towards a life of simplicity, harmony and balance.

Today is my first proper step and I’m thankful for that. I wasn’t, I couldn’t see what the day was showing me, but I am now and I am truly grateful.

I knew this wasn’t going to be easy; that there would be a lot of hard work, but I hadn’t expected that acceptance was also going to be part of the journey. Hopefully now I’m further on the path towards that, towards a future of contentment and acceptance.


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Before we get started

Well I feel I’m being a little previous here, as I’m not actually in France as I type, but it’s not been long since we came back.

That was from the second of our trips this year; the one where we signed on the dotted line to purchase our new house. Admittedly the house is only new to us and not newly built. Oh no, there’s plenty of work to be done to get this rural French property spick and span, but that’s supposed to be the fun of it.

It’s taken four months from us seeing it and having the offer accepted, to going to the Notaire and receiving the key (just the one). I can’t decide whether the time has flown or dragged, but we’ve got it now. Now is when the real work starts. It’s all very well planning, organising & e-mailing, but that only gets you so far. Now we have to make this long dwelled over dream a reality.

We started to get the hang of this when we spent the first four nights of our ownership, occupying the place; though I guess most would describe it a ‘roughing it’ in some form or another. I have to admit we were so dubious about the state of the electrical wiring in the place that we didn’t dare flick on the main switch until the fourth day. Thankfully, no rogue sparks materialised and no hair was left stood on end. That can’t be said about investigations into the septic tank, but less said about that the better.

Despite the fact that the house is in Central SW France (an area generally warmer than the UK during the majority of the year), I think the first night we stayed in the house was one of the coldest I have experienced. Our own fault of course, just a few blankets and an air bed between us and a concrete floor; one of those times I can live without experiencing again. The borrowing of thick cushions for a couple of nights and relocating to an upstairs wooden floor saved us from repeating our first night feat. You live and learn.

Now you may at this stage, (those quick-witted amongst you), be wondering why we didn’t just sleep upstairs in the first place. There is a reason. It had something to do with there being no balustrade of any form around the stairs, a downstairs bathroom and a rather large fear of breaking one’s neck during the night when one had to ‘spend a penny’ as the saying goes. By the last night we’d got the hang of the place, had realised we could approach the stairs from the right angle without mortally wounding ourselves and had already returned the borrowed cushions to their rightful home.

There are of course many other small tales to tell about our first adventure in our new home, like how we can’t get the car through the back gate or how we had to release a bird caught in the conservatory, but they can be told later.

The point of me looking back now, amidst the chaos of planning the renovation of our future home, is how simple and freeing this feels. How hard you work produces direct results for you and yours. Everything you work on is to benefit you and your family. You can see the link, feel it even. I guess it’s like knowing where your food comes from, how it’s been grown or what sort of life it’s had, but the connection to the effort you put in and the result you get is tangible.  I do hope we can achieve the life we set out to; to keep the connection; to feel it every day and to keep things simple and in balance.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but for now I’m planning on keeping this connection just in reach.

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